After two straight years of virtual conferences during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Texas Library Association Annual Conference is back in person this year, Monday–Thursday, April 25–28, at the Fort Worth Convention Center in Fort Worth. And TLA organizers say they are energized by the prospect of Texas librarians coming together again, under a conference theme of “Recover, Rebalance, Reconnect.”

No question, it’s been a challenging two years. And as the pandemic eases its grip somewhat and the conference draws near, life is still far from normal. In 2022, librarians in Texas find themselves confronting another historic challenge: a pernicious wave of book bans and legislative proposals targeting the BIPOC and LGBTQ communities, striking at the freedom to read—a core principle of our democracy—and potentially putting librarians and educators in personal and legal jeopardy.

In Texas, the issue garnered national headlines when, in October 2021, a conservative state legislator named Matt Krause launched an investigation of some 850 books he singled out for scrutiny in Texas schools—virtually all of them involving race or the LGBTQ community. Not to be outdone, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott alleged that some schools were providing “pornography” to kids and demanded that the Texas state agencies overseeing education and library funding take action to keep allegedly inappropriate books out of Texas schools. Abbott has followed up by proposing a “parental bill of rights” that would allow for the prosecution of any educator or librarian found to have supplied a minor with material deemed inappropriate, as well as stripping the accused of their professional credentials and placing them on a “do not hire” list.

“When we chose this theme of ‘Recover, Rebalance, Reconnect’ for the 2022 conference, we had no idea how pertinent it would end up being,” says TLA president Daniel Burgard, university librarian and vice provost for scholarly information management at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. “Not only in terms of librarians’ physical, mental, and emotional health related to the pandemic but in terms of the attacks on intellectual freedom and the freedom to read that are dominating the headlines here in Texas and getting librarians and educators screamed at and threatened in school board meetings.”

Libraries Under Attack

It’s hard work to plan a TLA conference program in the best of times. But the lingering global pandemic and the surge of book bans in schools and libraries adds new challenges.

“You know, I was trying to think how I’d describe what I’ve been feeling,” Burgard says, resisting the term “wartime president” when asked, due to the violent imagery it conjures up. “But libraries are under attack,” he allows, almost in disbelief. “The idea that someone is using librarians and teachers as ammunition in their political campaign and willfully, purposefully seeking to destroy the faith and trust people hold in public education and libraries is just shocking. We librarians have a dogged belief that we’ll come out on top. But I think it’s going to be ugly for a while. It’s going to take patience and long-range thinking. And you just have to hope that when it’s done, we haven’t lost a huge amount of trust and political good will in the process.”

In a November 2021 PW article, EveryLibrary director John Chrastka described the current wave of local book banning as the work of a very vocal minority on the right executing a well-coordinated, well-funded national political strategy to “weaponize” the issue of parental control to win local elections. A poll released last month by the American Library Association would seem to back that up, finding that 71% of voters—including majorities across party lines—oppose pulling books from library shelves. Furthermore, 74% of parents of public school children polled expressed “a high degree of confidence” in school librarians to make good decisions about which books to make available to children.

Burgard says those findings track with what librarians in Texas are seeing. “What we see is a well-funded national effort,” he explains, “and money flowing into that effort from groups that, because of the current state of our laws governing political contributions, you can’t even discover who they are. But whoever is behind these efforts, they are doing a really good job of identifying individuals and filling them up with talking points. And one of the most unfortunate parts of this situation is how quickly some superintendents and school board members have forgotten that they already have sound policies in place to handle book challenges and have started appointing committees of parents to review books, or just started pulling them altogether. And, you know, every single challenge is about a book that presents a nonwhite, nonheterosexual, non-Christian perspective or experience—that is virtually every single book that’s being challenged in Texas.”

TLA president-elect Mary Woodard, a 35-year veteran librarian and director of library services at the Mesquite Independent School District near Dallas, agrees. She recalls her dismay when her superintendent shared Krause’s list of 850 books to be investigated. “I never thought I would see something like this in the United States of America,” she says. “We’re used to people expressing concerns about books. That happens all the time. But a list of books coming from a government official just lends a whole different level of gravity to the situation.”

The idea that someone is using librarians and teachers as ammunition in their political campaign and willfully, purposefully seeking to destroy the faith and trust people hold in public education and libraries is just shocking.

Like Burgard, Woodard is concerned by how events are unfolding in some districts. “We’ve been seeing parents bypass the processes in place to challenge books and instead going to public school board meetings and, during the public comment period, reading shocking passages aloud, totally out of context,” she says. “And we’ve seen some school boards respond by bypassing their own processes and policies. And that’s really concerning. Because librarians don’t have a problem with reconsidering a book if someone has a legitimate concern about it. But when we see school and library boards knee-jerk bypassing their own policies and just pulling books without due consideration, and then the governor is proposing this kind of legislation—it’s very concerning.”

Woodard says librarians and administrators in some districts are feeling intimidated—worried that they’ll be subjected to harassment or, worse, confronted by those who believe they have cause to make some kind of citizens arrests. “We’re concerned because some librarians might stop collecting books they think might be perceived as at all controversial,” she adds. “And we don’t want our collections to stop reflecting the diverse populations that we serve. We want our books to reflect all of our kids, and we want all of our kids to be able to see themselves on our shelves.”

Fortunately, Burgard says, once parents and concerned citizens understand what’s going on in their communities, many are standing with libraries and educators. And to that end, TLA and the library community in Texas are doing what they do best: providing information and resources to their communities.

For example, the TLA website hosts an array of resources to combat book bans for librarians and educators. A social media movement, #FReadom, emerged last November in response to the rise in book banning and has provided a platform for freedom-to-read advocates to be heard. And last month, TLA unveiled a new advocacy initiative, Texans for the Right to Read, which Burgard describes as tool to help concerned citizens and parents come together, share resources, and start pushing back “in a little more organized” fashion.

“It took a little time to kick in,” he says, “but people are realizing, that, hey, that’s my school or my library they’re talking about. And what we’ve started to see is that, in almost every school district now, parents are starting to push back against these efforts. I think that’s how we have to respond. We have to engage. Because we’re on the right side of this.”


Much attention will be focused on the 2022 TLA conference, for many reasons. Not the least of which is that the conference will be another bellwether for the return to in-person library conferences.

The TLA conference is the nation’s largest state library association meeting by a Texas mile, and it’s very much like a national show. Before the pandemic, the conference regularly drew more than 7,000 librarians, publishers, and vendors and 500 exhibiting companies each year. No one is expecting those numbers in 2022, of course.

“Industry statistics tell us we should expect about 40% of a normal TLA conference attendance,” Burgard says. “So, 3,000 give or take would be a pretty good attendance goal, though initial indications from our registrations are running higher than that.”

Furthermore, TLA is all in on in-person, Burgard says. Though TLA leaders have learned a lot about the power of virtual conferences to extend programming opportunities to the association’s members, the TLA conference will not be a hybrid event. Instead, organizers are planning for a separate virtual event for members who can’t make it to Fort Worth, and that event will run online later in the year—likely in the first week of June.

Burgard has high praise for the work of TLA executive director Shirley Robinson, who he says has done “a masterly job” collaborating with vendors and “reinforcing their strong relationship with Texas librarians and TLA.” Indeed, TLA members represent about a $1.5 billion market in terms of combined statewide annual budgets—a big chunk of which goes to a wide array of books, resources, technology, and programming. And, like the state itself, the Texas library community is huge. It includes more than 200 academic libraries and almost 900 public library outlets (counting branches and bookmobiles), and school librarians make up a huge contingency within TLA. For good measure there are 200 or so special libraries—corporate libraries and the like.

TLA itself is also big, composed of four divisions, 10 districts, and nearly 30 roundtables and discussion groups. Beyond the annual conference, members participate in programming for members throughout the year on a wide range of topics. Incredibly, the association pulls it all off with a small, dedicated staff in its Austin offices and the contributions of its members.

But even before the pandemic, changes were coming to TLA—much like change has come for ALA, and virtually every other membership association in recent years. In a recent message to members, TLA executive director Shirley Robinson said the association has weathered the last two years well, all things considered. But in 2022, it is once again focusing on the future.

The future of TLA will be a major focus of Woodard’s upcoming presidency. “To get through the pandemic we’ve had to make a lot of adjustments in the way we do things, and I think we’ve learned a lot,” she says. “There are many things TLA can do to reinvent ourselves, to streamline some things. Even before the pandemic, TLA, similar to ALA, had been struggling under the weight of our own organization, I think. So that’s what I ran on—I want to help TLA to kind of reinvent the way that we do some things to be more streamlined, efficient, and more effective.”

Finding ways to keep TLA members engaged, contributing, and participating, Woodard explains, is vital. “With the pandemic, people were just not as available to volunteer, so we were seeing a decrease in volunteerism and commitment,” she adds. “It’s just that many people don’t have as much capacity as they did in the past. So we need to make sure that our members know they are all valued and supported. It’s challenging, but it’s also very exciting. People understand that time marches on, and we have to rethink some things.”
Meanwhile, Burgard says he’s feeling great about the upcoming conference. And he’s quick to credit his programming committee and TLA leadership for their focus and dedication in keeping the association on track for a successful return.

“We’ve really kept our eye on the ball with our health-themed conference while simultaneously marshaling our resources to work on all the censorship stuff that has popped up,” Burgard notes. “We’re going full speed on both tracks.”

And despite the challenges librarians are battling to overcome, Burgard sees the positive as well. “Texas librarians are getting the chance to tell people what we stand for and who we are,” he says. “And that message is being received extremely well. I couldn’t be more excited about the conference program.”

★ Program Highlights ★
This year’s TLA conference, which runs Monday–Thursday, April 25–28, at the Fort Worth Convention Center, will feature more than 250 educational sessions and a strong lineup of speakers that organizers say will inspire, educate, and entertain attendees. A brief look at some conference highlights follows, but there is much more to be explored in the full program, which readers can check out online. And as always, consult the online program for locations and any last-minute changes. All times given are in Central Time.

General Sessions

Bestselling author Ibram X. Kendi will kick off the TLA 2022 main speaker program, keynoting General Session I (Tuesday, 8:15–9:45 a.m.). Kendi is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University and founding director of BU’s Center for Antiracist Research, and he’s widely regarded as one of America’s foremost historians and leading antiracist scholars. He is also a contributing writer at the Atlantic and a CBS News contributor on issues of racial justice. I

In 2020, Time magazine named Kendi one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He was awarded a 2021 MacArthur “genius grant.” Kendi is the author of eight bestselling books, with an incredible five straight #1 New York Times bestsellers, including Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619–2019, with Keisha N. Blain; How to Be an Antiracist; Antiracist Baby; and Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, with Jason Reynolds, which won the 2016 National Book Award for nonfiction.

Nadine Strossen, a former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, will keynote General Session II (Wednesday, 4:15–5:30 p.m.). Strossen is a leading expert and frequent speaker and media commentator on constitutional law and civil liberties. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the ACLU, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Heterodox Academy, and the National Coalition Against Censorship, and is a founding member of the new Academic Freedom Alliance, which launched in March 2021.

Strossen’s 2018 book, Hate: Why We Should Resist It With Free Speech, Not Censorship, has been widely praised by readers and critics across an ideologically diverse spectrum. At TLA, she will review the history and aims of censorship, current efforts at banning materials in libraries, and how libraries, communities, and friends of libraries can unite in their efforts to expand access to free speech and counter to efforts to ban books and ideas in schools and libraries.

Actor and author Melissa Gilbert will keynote General Session III (Thursday, 11 a.m.–noon). Gilbert starred as a young Laura Ingalls Wilder on NBC’s Little House on the Prairie in the 1970s and early ’80s, and has gone on to appear in many other movies, shows, and plays over her career, as well as serving two terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild. She is also the author of numerous books including Prairie Tale: A Memoir; Daisy and Josephine, a picture book; and a cookbook, My Prairie Cookbook.

At TLA 2022, Gilbert will discuss her new book, Back to the Prairie: A Home Remade: A Life Rediscovered, a memoir chronicling her journey from Hollywood to a ramshackle house in the Catskills during the Covid pandemic.

The story begins after her husband (actor Timothy Busfield) introduces her to the wilds of rural Michigan, causing her to fall back in love with nature. When work their takes them to New York, they find a rustic cottage in the Catskill Mountains north of the city to call home. But rustic is a generous description for the state of the house, and the pandemic unexpectedly forces the newlyweds to commit to their new rural life, which ends up requiring a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

Featured Events

As usual, this year’s TLA conference will include a range of special ticketed events with top-notch authors and speakers. Once again, please consult the TLA conference website for information about tickets.

The Black Caucus Round Table Author Session (Tuesday, 10 a.m.) will feature chef Bryant Terry in conversation with bestselling author Kwame Alexander. In Terry’s newly released book, Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora, he shares culinary combinations that will amaze and delight vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike.
The Evening with the Authors event will feature Katherine Center, Dhonielle Clayton, Lorraine Heath, and Taylor Moore (Tuesday, 6–8 p.m.), who will share insights into their creative process and their latest works.

Center is the bestselling author of eight bittersweet comic novels, including How to Walk Away, Things You Save in a Fire, and Happiness for Beginners, which is being adapted into a Netflix feature starring Ellie Kemper. Her upcoming novel, The Bodyguard, will be published by St. Martin’s in July.

] Clayton is the bestselling author of the Belles series and Shattered Midnight, and coauthor of Blackout and the Tiny Pretty Things duology, which was adapted into a Netflix series. A former librarian, she is also the COO of We Need Diverse Books, as well as the owner of Cake Creative Kitchen, an entertainment company dedicated to diverse books for all readers.

Heath is a bestselling author of more than 60 novels, including historical and contemporary romances for adults and teen readers. Hew new book, Girls of Flight City, is inspired by true events involving the Royal Air Force in Texas during WWII.

Moore, a sixth-generation Texan, is a former CIA intelligence officer who worked in both analysis and operations and later consulted for the Department of Defense. Down Range is Moore’s debut novel, and the first in a series featuring Garrett Kohl.

Authors Sonia Manzano and Neal Spelce will speak at the TLA Opening Awards & Author Session (Tuesday, 12:15–1:45 p.m.). Manzano is best known for her role as Maria on Sesame Street and is an author and a trailblazer in the field of children’s entertainment. Her new middle grade novel, Coming Up Cuban, is set in 1959 in Cuba, just as Fidel Castro came to power.
Spelce worked for six decades as a reporter on television and radio and in print. His latest book, With the Bark Off: A Journalist’s Memories of LBJ and a Life in the News Media, details his years working with LBJ during a crucial period in American history.

Always a highlight of TLA, the Texas Bluebonnet Award Author Session (Wednesday, 11:45 a.m.–1:45 p.m.) will feature author Rita Lorraine Hubbard and illustrator by Olge Mora, creators of this year’s award winner, The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read.

The Texas Bluebonnet Award is a nationally recognized children’s choice award. The program is designed to encourage reading for pleasure among students in grades three through six. Each year 20 books are chosen for the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list by a committee. Students who read at least five books from the master list can vote for their favorite titles each January.

Education Program Highlights

Speaking Truth: Nonfiction Books for Children
(Monday, 12:15–1:15 p.m.)
Connecting children to engaging nonfiction titles is an art and a science. A group of talented authors will discuss the latest high-quality and timely nonfiction books.

ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom Annual Update on Trends in Censorship and Challenges
(Monday, 2:45–3:45 p.m.)
The number of challenges reported to ALA increased by 60% in 2021, and censorship activity is not slowing down. Learn how ALA is supporting librarians facing challenges.

A Caldecott Conversation
(Tuesday, 10–11 a.m.)
Join illustrators Dan Santat and Yuyi Morales in conversation about their Caldecott-winning books, as well as their latest projects.

The #FReadom Fighters: Defending Intellectual Freedom
(Tuesday, 10–11 a.m.)
Presented by the founders of a grassroots initiative to counter attacks on diverse books, this session will help librarians prepare for book and materials challenges by taking positive and constructive action.

First Amendment Rights in Public Libraries
(Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.)
Andrea Russell, an attorney who works directly with local governments and libraries, will share how free speech issues relate to public library personnel, patrons, information access, building use, and more.

TLA Legislative Update
(Tuesday, 1:20–2:30 p.m.)
From broadband to book bans, issues impacting the library community are front and
center. Get an update on where things stand, and how TLA will work to protect and promote libraries in Texas.

We Are Family: New Books That Connect Us
(Tuesday, 3–4 p.m.)
A look at new books that showcase the different and complex relationships that make each family unique.

Lessons Learned: Planning for the Future
(Wednesday, 10–11 a.m.)
Examine how library practices have shifted due to political, social, and historical events. Panelists will suggest ways to enable and encourage librarians, staff, volunteers, and support groups to refresh and rebalance for a successful future.

Legal & Policy Issues Related to Materials Challenges
(Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.)
At this interactive session, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom and the Freedom to Read Foundation, will share information on legal precedents concerning censorship issues and policy resources available to help protect the right to read.

Fighting Challenges and Protecting the Right to Read
(Wednesday, 1:30–2:30 p.m.)
Pat Scales, the former chair of ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, will share strategies for handling book bans and navigating informed conversations with teachers, parents, administrators, and community members.

Reinvigorating, Retaining, and Recruiting Library Supporters
(Wednesday, 1:30–2:30 p.m.)
This panel will explore how libraries can foster lasting relationships with donors, volunteers, advocates, and support groups and offer insights into what keeps these valuable partners supporting each library’s mission.

What’s Your Story? Using Data to Promote Your School Library
(Thursday, 8:30–9:30 a.m.)
Learn how school librarians effectively organize and share their yearly library reports in a way that is meaningful to stakeholders.


The Exhibits Grand Opening will kick off the show on Monday, 3:45–6 p.m. The hall will then be open for two full days: Tuesday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Wednesday, 8 a.m.–4 p.m.

More than 400 companies are represented in the TLA 2022 exhibit hall, with 22 appearing there for the first time. Exhibitors include publishers; book jobbers; book fairs; architects; automation, furniture, and STEAM product vendors; service agencies; nonprofits; and many others.

Hundreds of authors will also be signing in the authors area and in exhibit booths. In addition, attendees will be educated and entertained in exhibitor showcases. And not to be missed are the Innovation Lab demo tables, where librarians and exhibitors will spark creativity with their presentations.